Entries in Libyan Islamic Fighting Group (1)


From Terror Group Founder to Libyan Rebel Military Commander

Abdelhakim Belhaj spoke to the media during a press conference in Tripoli on March 23, 2010 along with two other top figures of the Libyan Islamic Fighting Group (LIFG). Mahmud Turkia/AFP/Getty Images(WASHINGTON) -- The same man who triumphantly led Libyan rebels into Gadhafi's compound last week first came to the attention of the U.S. intelligence community years ago -- as a founder of a terror group.

Abdelhakim Belhaj, who was recently appointed to Tripoli's rebel military council, was one of the original founders of the Libyan Islamic Fighting Group, an anti-Gadhafi group which was later designated by the U.S. State Department as a terrorist organization with links to al Qaeda, according to U.S. government reports.

"We proudly announce the liberation of Libya and that Libya has become free and that the rule of the tyrant and the era of oppression is behind us," a victorious Belhaj told reporters after the storming of Gadhafi's Bab al-Aziziya compound last week. Ousting Gadhafi had been the main objective of the LIFG since its inception in the early 1990s, even if some of the fighters believed that meant putting Americans in the crossfire.

The group carried out operations against the Libyan government, including at least four suspected assassination attempts against Gadhafi in the 1990s, and was also believed to be connected to a series of suicide bombings in Casablanca, Morocco, in 2003, the U.S. State Department reported. As relations between the U.S. and Gadhafi improved in the mid-2000s, some LIFG leaders cultivated relationships with top al Qaeda leaders, including Osama bin Laden, and were suspected of funneling fighters to Iraq to carry out operations against U.S. soldiers.

When the LIFG was designated a terror organization in 2004, it was meant as a "gesture of solidarity" with the Libyan government, according to a March 2011 congressional report.

Contrary to several U.S. government reports, Libyan rebel ambassador to the U.S., Ali Aujali, told ABC News that the LIFG was never connected to al Qaeda and did not carry out terrorist operations.

"They were only opposed to Gadhafi during his rule and paid the price for that by being oppressed by the regime," Aujali said.

Though a recent congressional report said the alliance was viewed by terror analysts at the time as "having political rather than operational relevance," a leaked 2008 State Department cable and a separate report by the Counter Terrorism Center at West Point noted that an inordinate number of anti-U.S. insurgents in Iraq came from Libya and the LIFG.

Hitting Americans, the fighters believed, was just another way to hit Gadhafi, the cable says.

Still, other U.S. government documents describe the al Qaeda alliance announcement as a point of fracture within LIFG as many of their fighters were strictly anti-Gadhafi and did not view themselves as part of al Qaeda's global jihad against the West.

A U.S. official told ABC News it appeared the faction of LIFG that survived in the rebel movement "seems, from their statements and support for establishing a democracy in Libya... to not support al Qaeda."

"We'll definitely be watching to see whether this is for real or just for show," the official said.

Copyright 2011 ABC News Radio

ABC News Radio